For our Grade 5 students, a major focus of their year involves comparing
the Jewish experience of slavery to freedom to the African American
experience of slavery to freedom.
To travel the path from slavery to freedom, we have to recognize signs and take a leap of action.
Based on a close study of Sefer Shemot (The Book of Exodus) the Grade 5 students create a Dramatized Haggadah based on the following Big Idea:
המבחין בנס ועונה לו ?מי היוצא מעבדות לחרות
Who goes out from slavery to freedom?
One who understands the meaning of a miracle and responds to its call.
Engaged Text Study
The Grade 5 Dramatized Haggadah is rooted in rigorous text-based study of Sefer Shemot in an Ivrit b’Ivrit environment. In Chumash (Torah) class, the students use innovative approaches to enhance their understanding of the text.
Knots of Slavery – Loops of Freedom
One of these approaches is to look at the text as a series of “knots and loops”. Knots are moments in the story where the path to freedom narrows, tightens, or is blocked, while loops are moments in the story where opportunities for freedom open up. By engaging with the text through this reading strategy, the students are able to demonstrate their understanding of the text and offer their own interpretations.
From Text to Textile
In art class, the students then learn the art of knot tying and macramé. After studying a number of classic knots and experimenting with some of their own, each student selects verses from the Torah to express through a series of knots and loops.The students then write the verse, in Hebrew, on a ribbon and weave it into their piece.
The resulting collection of textile artwork and embedded Torah text becomes the backdrop for the culminating performance of the Dramatized Haggadah.
Interpreting the Haggadah
In Torah class, the students are tasked with writing, in Hebrew, a script that dramatizes key moments of the Exodus story. These scripts are later performed as a dramatization of the Maggid section of the Haggadah.
The final major integrated component of the Grade 5 Dramatized Haggadah is a study of the novel, Underground to Canada by Barbara Smucker. Underground to Canada recounts the experiences of Julilly, an African-American slave, who along with several other escaped slaves, makes the perilous journey through the Underground Railroad to Canada. The novel emphasizes the courage of Julilly, her friends, and those who helped them in their journey from Slavery to Freedom.
Interpreting the Haggadah
The Dramatized Haggadah Performance brings all of the students’ learning together through a multi-sensory presentation of the Haggadah in Hebrew, with guest appearances from the characters from the Underground to Canada. This performance challenges the students to make analogies between two journeys from Slavery to Freedom: The experiences of the characters on the Underground Railroad and the experiences of B’nai Israel during Yetziat Mitzrayim. Additionally, the Grade 5 Dramatized Haggadah is a presentation of the 15 parts of the Seder. Each section is presented in a unique way through dramatic dialogue, dance, and song.
Seder Plate for Julilly
The integrative tool for this part of the project is the Seder Plate – the centerpiece of the Seder Table that holds the key symbols of the Pesach story. Students are asked to imagine what symbols of slavery and freedom would appear on a Seder Plate that commemorated the experiences of the characters in Barbara Smucker’s novel, Underground to Canada.
Students then create a model of their imagined Seder plate depicting these symbols and compose a 3-5 page artist statement that describes each symbol on their plate, the relevance of each symbol to particular passages in Underground to Canada, and a parallel verse from the Torah that makes the association between the two journeys from Slavery to Freedom.
…The final object on my seder plate is the north star to represent freedom. I chose this object because in Underground to Canada, Julilly is told about the north star and people tell her that if you follow the north star, you will be free. From the start of Julilly’s journey to the end, the north star guides her to freedom. In this quote from Underground to Canada another slave at the Riley Plantation is telling Julilly about the north star: “They say you travel north and follow the north star and when you step onto this land you are free.” (Chapter 1 page 16) In Sefer Shmot, God creates a pillar of smoke and a pillar of fire for the Jews to follow day and night. This is the mark of freedom like the north star. As it says in the Torah:
The pillar of fire by day and the pillar of fire by night
did not depart from before the people.
This project exemplifies the type of Integrated Curriculum that is in place at The Toronto Heschel School. Students not only learn to think deeply within each subject area; they also learn to make connections across the disciplines and to relate the Jewish experience to broader, universal experiences.